It has rained again overnight and is still drizzling as I head out around 5:15.
The dawn sounds are gorgeous. An owl hoots, songbirds warble and in the background I hear crickets and frogs. So nice!
I stop at Curve pullout and listen a while. As the light grows I head further east but meet no other wolf watchers through Little American. There are none in Lamar Canyon either, so I keep going.
Lamar Valley on a summer morning looks so beautiful, all the more so for appearing empty - just how I like it!
Finally at Trash Can I see Jeff's distinctive bus. He is scoping the ledge trail and tells me no wolves have been sighted yet. There are indications that the Lamar wolves are in their den area, where they should be, tending to their growing pups.
We scope here a while, then head back east to Footbridge. I find Rick here. He tells me there was some howling around 6AM but so far no sightings have been reported.
I join Jeff in his usual spot at the east end of Footbridge, scoping the low hills above 480's crossing, one of the most likely places for them to appear. We find a little black bear up there, ambling to the west. For a moment or two I hope his presence might flush out a wolf but nothing like that happens.
The river gurgles and the bird song is wonderful. Behind us, in Chalcedony fan a grizzly is walking along the tree line. He's my first grizzly for this trip. He is WAY out there and I only see him for a few seconds, but it counts!
Well, sometimes one of us has to leave a sighting in order to make something happen, so I volunteer to be the sacrifice. I head west, and stop at the confluence a while to watch a herd of bison crossing the river.
My next stop is at Dorothys. Several wolf-watchers here are trying to find a black wolf on Divide Ridge. Someone saw it earlier from the Slough lot, heading up the Crystal drainage, which is a typical route wolves take from one spot to the other.
A few minutes later, Jeff joins us and we give him the update. He sets up and finds the wolf just like that! Hah! Thanks to him, I see it for a fraction of a second moving between tree trunks at skyline. Then it's gone.
We wait and wait for it to reappear but it doesn't. While we are scoping from here a visitor tells us about a carcass in the river corridor, further east, by Trash Can. I turn my scope on the area and see many cars. Not sure how I missed that.
Shortly after this I am climbing Exclosure Hill. I have learned that there is not only a carcass on the river bank, but a grizzly feeding on it! Unfortunately, though, the carcass is on the ROAD side of the river, and with summer crowds tending to be less knowledgeable about wildlife, there is a chance someone will dash out from the road and possibly get into trouble.
By the time I have my scope set up, the rangers have set out restricted access signs, hoping to prevent such an occurence.
I notice Doug M fairly high on the hill above me. He reports that the carcass looks to him like a bison. The grizzly is hard to see from my angle; he is below the river bank and I only occasionally see his hump or his back moving. Every once in a while his head comes up. He is chewing, and seems happy to have found it.
Out beyond the river is a small group of pronghorn. Oh! One of the females has a pair of fawns. How sweet. There are also a pair of sandhills, making their signature knocking sound.
So far, the day has been pretty terrific but it is about to get much better.
I hear Doug M say "wolves headed this way". Yay! I look to the left and find them walking purposefully through the old Druid rendezvous. And my face becomes a happy grin as I see my favorite wolf - the 06 herself! She is accompanied by her loyal mate, 755M, his brother, the beta male, 754M, and another gray and a smaller black.
Laurie ID's them for me as Middle Gray and the black female yearling. (Note: at this point it was still thought that the one black yearling was a male because there was such a noticable size difference between the two black yearlings. But a few weeks after my trip ended, it was learned that both black yearlings are female. One is just unusually large).
I initially believe that the Lamar wolves know about the bison carcass and are heading towards it. But that's not what happens. They stay well to the south of the river, making their way steadily west. I notice that the 06 and 755 are doing a great deal of scent marking - so perhaps this is more a territory check than a hunting foray.
At one point Middle Gray stops and faces the river. Perhaps she smells the carcass (or the bear). She begins to move toward the river, but none of the other wolves notice her and keep heading west. She seems to change her mind. She turns and follows the others.
While the collared adults walk or trot with determination, the black yearling is full of energy, romping, running, jumping over the others. She is hysterical to watch. I call her the "flying" wolf because she is airborne so often. After a while, her energy infects Middle Gray and 754, too. They all begin to romp and play along with her.
But I can tell they are going to continue west for a while, so I pack up and head down to my car. I set up again at Hubbard Hill, where I continue to watch their progress. There is still a lot of play by the yearling, although the others have settled into a steady pace. I continue to see a great deal of double scent marking.
Having the Lamar wolves so visible in the late morning has attracted hundreds, perhaps thousands of visitors. Most grab a glimpse and go, but hundreds stay to watch, just as the regulars do. They are close enough to see well yet far away enough from the road to be safe. It's a perfect way to enlist Yellowstone visitors in the thrill of seeing a wild wolf.
They contine west and I move again, this time to Dorothy's. Laurie's son and daughter in law visit for a while, with their darling son, William. And as if on cue, a badger appears in the sage below, entertaining William with his rapid digging and snuffling. Then the badger dashes quickly downhill with his tail straight up. I think he is hunting ground squirrels.
There is a bison herd below us in the flats between Dorothy's and Fisherman's with numerous calves. The wolves begin moving towards the herd and I watch the yearling test a few individuals. Nothing serious, but I guess a youngster can't help herself.
755 and 754 bed down near the river and watch the yearling. But the 06 keeps moving through the herd, looking north. It appears as though her plans this morning include crossing the road.
Hmmm. There are so many people, I'm not sure this is going to happen.
Rick asks some of us to spread out while he and the rangers deal with traffic. I set up just east of Lamar Canyon. A young couple from New Jersey, Tom & Chris, whom I met earlier today join me. They are very enthusiastic and are great spotters.
There is so much traffic at the moment, I wonder if the 06 will just change her mind. The two males and the yearling female are all bedded in the flats watching the bison. The 06 and Middle Gray are walking in the draw between Dorothy's Knoll and Coyote Overlook.
A photographer has walked out from Fishermans, below the Overlook, presumably to better see the black wolves in the flats. I'm not sure he knows how close he is to the two grays - his view of them is probably obscured. But then people from Fisherman's pullout start walking along the bison trail that the photographer used to get where he is. More and more people run out behind the others, I counted 60 people!
I'm sure they can see the black wolves, but maybe they see The 06, too? Anyway, it is a mess.
The gray wolves are now moving along the slope above the people. I still dont think they even know they are there - the people are looking at the black wolves in the flats.
Rick is getting reports from various spots so I tell him what I see. Next thing I know a ranger is walking out to the large group to try to urge them back. Most people return immediately, but it looks to me like the original photographer will not budge.
And this is one reason why some wolf watchers have a poor opinion of some photographers.
Anyway, at one point, Middle Gray turns back but The 06 soldiers on.
She crosses the road and I shake my head to see a car stop and two people in it run down the road towards her. She lopes easily uphill, unconcerned with them. The ranger is able to shoo the people back to their car, but of course three more people cross the road behind the ranger, trying to photograph The 06. They could see her just fine if they stayed in Fisherman's lot, but, oh well.
Now Middle Gray sees her chance and crosses the road, loping to catch up to her mother. Both wolves disappear into the sage on the hillside.
I turn back to the flats to check on the black wolves. All three are still bedded, close to the river and far from the road. But they are in clear view, so it becomes another opportunity to present a visitor with his or her first view of a Yellowstone wolf. The vast majority of visitors are respectful, and I think some of them who watched the 60 person parade, realize better how important it is to stay in the pullouts.
Some of the frenzy has died down now but it looks to me that the males do not really want to cross the road. They seem content to lie in the high green grass. So Tom, Chris and I move back to Dorothy's.
Once we are set up here, Rick helps us find The 06 and Middle Gray, still bedded on the north slope. Hmmm, well, it seems their journey for today has stopped for the time being.
I am getting sun-fried but it's been such a fun day, I just don't mind!
Around 4PM The 06 and Middle Gray come down to the road as if to cross back south, but are spooked again by people who hop out of their cars, so they change their minds and head back up the hill.
When I check on the group of black wolves, I see the two males still where I left them but the yearling is gone. She is soon spotted coming up the sage hill to the east of us. We see a few people about to get in their cars but we are able to convince them to wait here and let her cross.
They stay and sure enough, the yearling does cross not far from the spot where we saw the badger earlier. I hold my breath as dozens of people snap photos of her. A few minutes later, two coyotes cause some species confusion by escorting the yearling through the sage as she makes her way higher on the hill, moving west towards her mother and older sister.
For the next four hours, from approximately 4:50 to 8:50 I remain in this pullout with a rotating group of wolf watchers, keeping an eye on the two collared males still bedded in the high grass.
We show hundreds of people these two wolves, and we also tell visitors about the carcass further east. The grizzly has apparently stayed on the carcass all day!
Around 7PM a few bison wander close to the males and cause them to move from their bedding spot. They wander a ways to the east, then 754 seems to smell something interesting. He is in a muddy area that was clearly under water earlier in the spring. He starts to dig in the soft earth. Soon he is dragging something large and heavy from that spot. Whatever it is, 755 has noticed. He jumps up and trots quickly over to 754. He commandeers whatever it is that 754 has found.
Poor 754. He does the work only to have 755 pull rank on him. It's a small carcass, a bison calf. Could be a stillborn, or maybe a calf that drowned trying to cross the river, and has been buried till now?
It seems intact. We can see the head and the tiny hooves at the end of the legs. 755 begins to feast, while 754 sits on his haunches, trying to wait patiently, deferring to his dominant brother, even though he is larger and heavier. Oh, it's killing him! He rolls over over and tenderly paws his brother's face. After a while, we are relieved to see 755 relent and give 754 his turn.
754 is up like a shot. He drags the carcass a bit to the east and then sits down to have his meal. Well, how do you like that? It's kind of cool that 754 discovered what no other carnivore had detected.
While 754 chows down, 755 remains on guard. And good thing, too. Two coyotes appear in the flats, approaching the wolves from the west. I bet they smell that calf carcass too!
One coyote is at first quite bold, but then 755 turns his head and gives the smaller canid The Stare. Uh oh! The bold coyote stops in his tracks and changes his mind in a hurry, trotting back to the west, looking several times over his shoulder, just to be sure.
Then someone in the pullout suddenly calls out and points to the north. Whoa! A gray wolf is crossing the lower part of Cardiac Hill, right across from all of us. And guess who it is? Who else, but The 06!!!!
Behind her trails a coyote, lunging every once in a while. She totally ignores the coyote. She turns her head to look at us, just long enough to make sure none of us are going to do something stupid. Or maybe she is not looking at us at all, and just wondering what her men are up to in the flats?
Anyway, it's an amazing moment.
It's got to be my closest sighting of her since Christmas 2009, when she was a love-lorn single, howling her head off. She doesn't care about all of us at all, and she won't let us stop her when she has things to do.
You go, girl.
Once The 06 is out of sight, we go back to sharing our scopes with the many people who stop by. Jeremy shows up around 8:30 and I enjoy listening to him explain about the wolves to the dozens and dozens of visitors who stop by.
One woman in particular does not believe what Jeremy says. Her view through the scope was during a time when both wolves were bedded and they hardly looked like wolves. Jeremy is perplexed by her skepticism but then 754 gets up so I insist this woman take a look in my scope again. Suddenly her whole attitude changes. She gets a great big grin on her face and calls excitedly to her family "Come over here! They ARE wolves!"
As rewarding as it is, showing bedded wolves to visitors can be hard work. So I bid goodnight to Jeremy and Tom & Chris and head east to Pebble in the waning light.
Jeff is staying in the lot next to mind, so once I get set up, I join him at his picnic table, where he offers me a cup of wine and a plate of snacks. One does not expect such niceties when one camps at Pebble Creek! It's a lovely evening. We sip our wine and listen to the river music and chat quietly about the wonderful gifts Yellowstone gave us today.
TODAY I SAW: 1 black bear, 2 grizzly bears, bison (and calves), coyotes, elk, pronghorn, 6 wolves (including one unknown black plus 5 Lamar Canyon wolves: The 06, 755M, 754M, Middle Gray, and the black female yearling) and the spirit of Allison.